Transparency is at the heart of two new initiatives from Cargill, a comprehensive Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of EverSweet stevia sweetener by Avansya, and a first-of-its-kind look inside the company’s leaf-based stevia sustainability efforts.
To complete the LCA, Cargill and joint venture partner DSM compared the environmental impact of their ground-breaking EverSweet sweetener to other stevia-based solutions, as well as conventional sugar. The third-party-verified LCA study found EverSweet offers significant environmental advantages over other sweetener choices.
The difference lies in EverSweet’s unique origin story. Stevia leaves contain dozens of sweet components. However, two of the best-tasting, Reb M and Reb D, comprise less than 1% of the stevia leaf. Cargill and DSM pioneered an innovative and more sustainable approach, using fermentation to produce EverSweet, a Reb M and Reb D stevia sweetener, less water, less land, and a smaller carbon footprint.
“We knew our approach offered tangible environmental benefits,” said Andrew Ohmes, global product line manager for high-intensity sweeteners, Cargill. “Now, with the completion of our LCA, we can quantify this sustainability edge, giving our food and beverage customers even greater confidence in the environmental credentials of EverSweet.”
As part of the LCA review, Cargill and DSM compared EverSweet to three production pathways: leaf-based Reb A, leaf-based Reb M, Reb M produced through bioconversion*, and for benchmarking purposes, beet sugar and cane sugar. EverSweet significantly outperformed the other sweeteners.
Not surprisingly, leaf-based Reb M was the least sustainable approach. Reb M occurs in extremely low concentrations in stevia leaves, requiring 70 times more stevia leaves than leaf-sourced Reb A. While Reb M produced through bioconversion scored somewhat better, fermentation-sourced EverSweet was the clear winner. When compared to the bioconverted Reb M, EverSweet:
Produces 60% lower carbon footprint
Requires 70% less land
Results in 60% lower ecological footprint, delivering additional benefits related to land use, including biodiversity, ecosystems impact, and reduced need for water for irrigation
These reductions result in meaningful environmental benefits. The greenhouse gas emissions saved by using just one ton of EverSweet (enough to sweeten 7.5 million cans of 12-ounce soda) is equivalent to 311,000 miles driven by the average passenger car or charging more than 15 million smartphones when compared to bioconverted Reb M.
Sustainable, transparent sourcing extends to leaf-based stevia
The LCA is part of Cargill’s ongoing effort to provide greater transparency into its stevia sustainability efforts. Concurrent with its release, the company is launching a new Virtual Stevia Harvest Experience, which showcases its longstanding sustainability standard that helps ensure responsible, ethical sourcing for its leaf-based offerings.
The virtual experience walks through each stage of the company’s leaf-based stevia production process, from greenhouse to manufacturing facility. It highlights Cargill’s best-in-class agricultural and manufacturing standards designed to minimize the environmental impact of production practices and help ensure worker safety and welfare, and prevent forced, convict or child labor.
Traceability is key to these efforts, as every lot of the company’s stevia can be traced back through its supply chain to the farmers and cooperative who planted the crop. Not every major stevia supplier offers this level of field-to-finished product traceability. The virtual tour also outlines the company’s stringent testing protocols, which begin while plants are still in the field. These production specifications, combined with rigorous validation processes during manufacturing, ensure product consistency from lot to lot -- another point of differentiation.
“When we created the first commercial-scale stevia supply chain, we made sustainability a priority,” Ohmes said. “In the ensuing years, we created the industry’s premier leaf-based stevia sustainability program and pioneered a better stevia sweetener made with fermentation technology. Completing this comprehensive Life Cycle Analysis and unveiling our Virtual Stevia Harvest is further evidence of that commitment, as we continue to provide greater transparency into our operations and push the industry toward innovation that sustains.”
*This process uses enzymes to convert compounds in the stevia leaf into Reb M. Its environmental footprint includes growing and harvesting stevia plants, extracting and purifying specific components, then enzymatically converting those components into Reb M.